Written by Sherry
Tuesday, 04 December 2007 22:44
The extraordinary Mary Ward is a great example of the prominent role that women played in the persecuted English Catholic community. Mary was related to most of the recusant families of England and all the women in her family - mother, grandmother, aunts - were very devout and had spent years in prison for their faith. Imagine the impact of that kind of modeling on a highly intelligent and devout young girl.
Mary was classically educated and spoke and read several languages, including Latin. Like many Englishwomen from the higher classes, Mary Ward enjoyed much greater freedom and independence than was available to women in most Catholic countries at that time - especially in Rome.
Mary established the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary to educate girls and it quickly spread all over the Europe. She was completely faithful to the Church and her ultimate vision was to re-establish Catholicism in England but her vision of educated, non-cloistered women apostles, operating under the Jesuit rule, and answering to the Pope rather than to local bishops, was extremely controversial. Her community was formally suppressed by the Pope in 1631 and Mary herself was imprisoned by the Church (although released by the Pope when he realized what had happened).
The 1631 Papal Bull of Suppression was never been rescinded. However, it was contradicted in 1703 by the approval of the Rules and the approbation of the Institute in 1877. It was only in 1909 that Mary Ward was publicly acknowledged as foundress of the Institute and her rehabilitation was complete when Pope Pius XII called Mary "that incomparable woman" in his speech to the the 1951 Congress on the Apostolate of the Laity.
There is a wonderful Life of Mary Ward told in 50 - 17th century paintings that hang in the IVBM convent in Augsburg, Germany.
Some of my favorites show Mary as a young woman evangelist in England.
At Coldham Hall in England, Mary obtained the conversion of a very wealthy but obstinately heretical lady, after many learned men had vainly employed all their zeal and eloquence in trying to convert her.
And here, Mary goes undercover by dressing as a servant to reach her aunt and bring her to the Catholic faith.
And here Mary quells a mutiny on board by invoking her patron St. James. Mary afterwards declared that she had never sought any favour from God through the intercession of this great prince of heaven without it being granted to her.
All in a day's work.